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Earth Day 2014: Biotech Makes Farming Earth-Friendly

April 22, 2014
On Tuesday, April 22, the world celebrates Earth Day, and the biotech industry celebrates the many ways that technology has helped to revolutionize farming and make it more environmentally friendly.

Not only are the world’s farmers producing more food than ever before, we’re able to do it in ways that conserve water, preserve soil nutrients, lessen the need for pesticide applications and reduce carbon emissions.

Reducing Emissions
No-till or low-till agriculture, in limited use prior to the genesis of biotech crops in 1996, has enabled farmers to shift to simpler, more effective agronomic practices that better contain carbon in the soil. This leads to improved soil health and water retention and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The adoption of biotech herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops has helped to increase no-till agriculture. In 2011, the combined savings of carbon emissions from biotech crops was equivalent to removing 23 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing 10.2 million cars from the road for one year.

Conserving Land and Water
Biotech crops use water more efficiently. Thanks no no-till and low-till practices, more water remains in the soil. There is less soil erosion with biotech crops, so there is less water runoff, which has enhanced water quality. In fact, a National Research Council report concluded: “Improvements in water quality could prove to be the largest single benefit of GE crops.”

Biotech-improved crops also allow for higher productivity on land currently under cultivation, preventing the conversion of tropical forests and land used for other, non-agricultural purposes to farmland. Thank to drought tolerant technology, crops use less water and survive amid environmental stress, a key challenge brought on by climate change.

Less Chemical Use
Insect-resistant (Bt) crops – especially corn and cotton – target specific insect pests, reducing the need for chemical insecticides. In fact, since 1996, pesticide spraying has been reduced by 474 million kg (more than 9 percent) and as a result decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by nearly 18 percent. The widespread adoption of glyphosate-resistant crops has reduced the use of more toxic (albeit EPA-registered) herbicides in soybean, cotton, and corn fields.

Ensuring Energy Security
The solution to America’s energy security challenge lies in applying innovative biotechnology to convert biomass to advanced biofuels. Biofuels are made from everything from corn to soybeans to sugar beets to wood and grasses and even algae. Biobased feedstocks offer obvious environmental and economic advantages over fossil fuels.

The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture shows that the United States has seen productivity gains in agriculture since the adoption of biotech crops, while also improving efficiency in its use of resources including land, energy and water. As the population continues to grow stretching our planet’s resources to their limits, agricultural biotech practices can help conserve resources ensuring that future generations will have enough food and fuel.